At the last school board meeting, a group of Rainier Beach High School students, attended by one teacher, came to ask the board for a simple request: ORCA cards to help them travel to and from school.
The district responded by having a listening meeting with students in mid-December. Any news of solutions will have to wait until after the break.
At the school board meeting, one student describes how on his long walk to school, bus drivers will sometimes take pity on him and give him a lift, and sometimes they won’t, and that makes the difference between being late or on time.
Another said that the lack of help for transportation costs pushed her and other students into stark decisions.
“Students are having to choose between having money for food and money for transportation. College is in my future and transportation is not making it easier to get there.”
Natalia Skolnik, the students’ English teacher, was there with them. In an interview after the meeting, Skolnik said that after listening to the students talk about their difficulties getting to school, she suggested they work on the cause as a way of honing persuasive writing skills, while fixing a serious problem.
The neighborhoods Rainier Beach serves are some of the least pedestrian-friendly areas of the city, if you look at the walk score maps. They’re hilly, and sliced by roaring arterials. Some streets don’t have sidewalks. And some spots can be scary.
“Some girls have talked about being approached by men in cars,” Skolnik said.
“Between the girls being afraid to walk an hour in the morning, all the hills and some fights that happen in the neighborhoods, there’s a real threat to walking two and a half miles.”
Dan Jurdy, head counselor at the school said the long walks some kids face are a ‘huge factor” in whether they make it to school on time.
“It affects the kids that are the poorest. Within the boundaries of our neighborhood, we have the vast majority of kids who can’t afford ORCA cards.”
Whether kids make it to school on time often depends on the weather and the season, he says. Spring, with its early daylight hours, is a good time for attendance.
Meanwhile, Aki Kurose middle school, which serves part of the same area, is having enormous success in raising attendance.
But at Aki Kurose, any student who lives more than one mile away from school gets picked up by yellow bus, an exception to the usual rule for middle school transportation. At Rainier Beach, students aren’t eligible for an ORCA card unless they live more than two and a half miles from the school.
Aki Kurose principal Mia Williams told me that there are ways for students in hardship situations to be issued with free ORCA cards. There may be, but at Rainier Beach, Dan Jurdy hasn’t heard of any.
“I’ve had several kids accepted to Running Start that dropped out because they couldn’t get an ORCA Card,” he said. “How fair is that?”